Just like clockwork, every February there’s a murder in Langley.
Townspeople, merchants and amateur sleuths welcome the event like a sunny day in winter. Why? Because it’s Mystery Weekend!
The 2015 murder is already carefully planned for the weekend of Feb. 21-22 by experienced Mystery Weekend writer Loretta Martin. The plot and characters change every year, but the setting is always Langley.
Martin emails the cast members in the fall to determine who will be returning. Then she pens the storyline and fleshes out the characters with descriptions so the actors know who they are and how they should behave.
“The group of actors are like a little repertory company,” said Martin. “In January, they find out who they are this time, and they throw themselves into their parts and into assembling their costumes. Some of them have been part of Mystery Weekend for 31 years!”
This year, Martin explained, “It’s No Laughing Murder,” and the victim is Phyllis Curr Thriller, whose cold, dead body is found on the side deck of the Dog House Tavern on the morning of Friday, Feb. 20.
Martin described Thriller as “caustic, competitive, bossy, entitled and opinionated.” Thriller left Whidbey Island after high school and traveled to LA, where she married multimillionaire stunt coordinator Max Thriller. Until she inherited the Dog House from her uncle “Dog” Curr, Thriller hadn’t been seen in Langley in 50 years.
A stand-up comedian herself, Thriller planned to open a comedy club in the historic tavern and promised to pair it with a reality TV show based in Langley. Merchants and town leaders were overjoyed at the news.
“The comedy club would put Langley on the map, especially with a reality TV show attached,” said Martin.
Meanwhile Thriller’s cousin, Winnie Burl, is bewildered that her beloved Uncle Dog left all his money to Phyllis and left Winnie only his home, furnishings, and storage locker. Dog didn’t even mention his grandnephew Joe or grandniece Josephine in his will. But Winnie is an optimist, and when she learned of the plans for a comedy club she was enthusiastic.
Some folks around town still had questions about the inheritance but now that the estate is closed everyone in town was following Winnie’s example and backing Phyllis (at least on the surface).
Of course Phyllis was not the most likable person but, with the future of the town and so many other people in her hands, who would want to see her dead?
That’s the question that amateur sleuths will have to answer during Mystery Weekend.
Joanna and Jerry Lechner, owners of Eagles Nest Inn, have been participating as cast members for several years. This year they play Millie Zomlin and Rob Trueheart.
“It’s a challenge to try to figure out how to play the character,” said Joanne Lechner. “Not to mention the challenge of finding the right costume.”
Lechner and other cast members haunt local thrift stores to find costumes to help them get in character.
Jerry Lechner said, “We’re all closet comedians. Mystery Weekend is a chance to play and say anything you like.”
John Ball plays Simon Degree this year, complete with a Snidely Whiplash mustache and black cape. His young friend, eight-year-old Shane Thomas, plays a mini version of Simon, “Ferd Degree.”
Others play a variety of clowns, comics, townspeople and authorities, and all are viable suspects.
Some characters have been known to accept bribes, and all of them can be counted on to lie and try to confuse the amateur sleuths who question them relentlessly throughout the weekend.
None of the characters know if they will be fingered as the murderer until everybody learns the truth at the Mystery Weekend finale Sunday afternoon.
Last year, actor J. Scott Williams of Bellingham, who played birdwatcher Rufus Hawks, was named as the killer and carted off to jail by Langley police.
In spite of his humiliating “arrest,” Williams looks forward to Mystery Weekend each year. He got involved because his parents gave him a weekend stay at the Inn at Langley and it happened to fall on Mystery Weekend 2002.
“I saw all these people in costume all over town and I was hooked,” said Williams. He played Mystery Weekend for several years, then signed on as an actor. This year he plays washed-up comedian Charlie Clapman.
Here’s how Mystery Weekend works. Sleuths come to Langley and line up outside the Visitor and Information Center on Anthes Street starting at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. There they buy a clue map for $10 (or $8 for seniors, youth and military) and are given a copy of the Langley Gazette with details of the murder.
From there, detectives fan out all over town, visiting the crime scene, picking up clues from participating merchants and interacting with the suspects, who will be in costume and whose photographs will be displayed in the windows of the Dog House.
When you think you know “who done it,” enter your solution on the official contest entry form and bring it back to Mystery Weekend headquarters at the Langley Visitor and Information Center at 208 Anthes Street. Correct solutions will be placed in a drawing for grand prizes, provided by local innkeepers and merchants. Incorrect solutions are still eligible for other prizes.
The prize drawing will take place after the solution is announced at Langley Middle School auditorium at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22. If prize winners are not present, they will be notified after the finale.
Be prepared for crowds of people in Langley that weekend, as well as a cast of crazy characters and general mayhem.
“I refer to Mystery Weekend as a creativity riot,” said Williams “I smile perpetually when I think of the funny, clever situations Loretta Martin invents every year.”
Image at top: Clown School staff Claira Bella (Rachel McDougald), Donald McConald (Joe McDougald), mime teacher Charlie Clapman (J. Scott Williams) and in front, student Rusty Simpson (Riley Pomeroy). Portion of Mystery Weekend Poster is courtesy of Langley Chamber of Commerce
Betty Freeman likes writing about creative people and events, and really enjoys a good mystery.
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